The turning of the seasons provides a perfect advertising and marketing opportunity for rural lifestyle equipment dealers. This time of year is an optimal time to encourage people to think about outdoor activities. But what’s the best way to reach new — and existing — customers?

The old saying “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” rings true when it comes to advertising. Use every mechanism you can to reinforce your message. For instance, radio advertising is reinforced when they see the same message in print, on a T-shirt, online or in a direct mail piece.

“The more you’re out there, the more likely you are to be heard,” says Eric Nelson, associate media director for ag and rural lifestyle communications firm Osborn Barr. “Multiple media placements solidify your message.” So, what’s the right mix?

1. You have to have a web presence.

It may be through social media like Facebook — which is free, unless you decide to advertise — or a placeholder website (one that has basic information about your business) or a more involved website that has more functionality. Whatever the method, an easily understood web presence is critical today.

“Before you start any campaign, the key is to make sure you’re digitally up to speed,” Nelson says. “Make sure your website is user-friendly and offers information that people need to locate you and contact your sales and service departments.”

The website doesn’t have to be extravagant. It just needs to be easy to navigate, easy to understand, and provide basic dealership information.

“Think about how you use the web,” Nelson says. “Consider how you buy a car for example. Even if you don’t purchase online, you may have done online research. If you use the web in this way, chances are your customers do, too.”

2. Direct mail continues to be one of the most effective and economical ways to reach your customers, particularly existing customers. Use your expertise to know when to reach out. For instance, based on expected life-cycles of equipment, you can remind a customer that you accept trade-ins.

Seasonal changes are a good time to use direct mail with existing customers to remind them of maintenance and service requirements or sales on warm weather equipment, Nelson says. And, as in all communications, from radio to print, be sure to include all your contact information, including your website.

“Direct mail, creatively designed, is a great way to remind customers that you are the business to visit for equipment expertise and service they need,” Nelson says.

3. Broadcast advertising can be very effective on a local level, especially for the rural lifestyle and agriculture audience, who spend a lot of time listening to the radio.

“Whether it’s farmers interested in planting or people who want to vacation on their 100-acre farm, radio is a good option in the spring,” Nelson says.

4. Don’t forget print advertising. The local newspaper plays a vital role in communications and news, especially in small towns. People still feel a connection to the paper, and people still enjoy holding the physical product. Plus, advertising in the local paper is a good way to show you support your community and local businesses.

5. Sponsorships are another key way to show your support for the community, and they continue to be an important advertising venue for rural lifestyle dealerships.

“Typically it doesn’t cost a lot to sponsor a local sports team. And, it connects the dealership with the parents and the community,” Nelson says. “It’s a subtle reminder throughout the season that you value the community. They know you bought the T-shirts for their kids’ T-ball team. So when they think about new compact tractors, your name c6omes to mind.”

You may want to consider developing a Customer Retention Model (CRM) to track customer interaction and help you identify where to advertise. Any time you interact with customers, gather basic information from them, such as their mailing address, email address and mobile phone number. Also, ask how they heard about you and what brought them into the dealership.

Ultimately, though, advertising doesn’t close the deal. It merely begins the relationship. It’s your sales force on the floor, your parts and service crew and the team members who answer the phones who are the face of your business, Nelson says. Advertising can bring people in the door, but your staff needs to cement that relationship.